A metaphor for secularism

(originally published in Dawn News)

‘SECULARISM’ may be a bad word in the dictionary of our ideologues, but it unites Pakistanis like nothing else. Take cricket as a binding force, for instance.

There’s nothing Islamic or un-Islamic about the sport, and in that it defines what the much-mistaken term ‘secularism’ means: neither religious nor explicitly irreligious, and certainly not anti-religion; secularism is religion-neutral; it can hold all religions in its fold, like in India and Bangladesh.

Of course, there are a handful of those on the fringes of society who oppose even cricket because it is too ‘secular’ for their liking. It is not about going up in the rugged mountains and training to kill in the name of God, but a sport that is enjoyed and played most passionately right down to the grass-roots level — from the dusty streets of Gwadar to the valleys of Hunza. It is everything, including popular, that the Taliban are not.

That is perhaps why they attacked the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in March 2009, putting an end to Pakistan as an international cricket host; they even called football ‘a waste of time’ when football fever was high during last year’s World Cup, ostensibly because it distracts the youth from their mission which is to kill and maim to enforce their version of Islam.

It can be argued that historically populism in Pakistan is tied to secular causes, the kind of populism that sweeps across the land and brings people together. Basant did that for years in Punjab before the killer twine killed it under orders from the highest court.

In the 2008 election, none of the political parties that got the popular vote harped on religious idiom because they knew that since the imposition of the Islamisation process by Gen Zia’s martial law regime, religion had become more of a dividing rather than a uniting force. Among the top victims of that controversial process have been women and the minorities; sectarianism amongst Muslims also sprung up as its ungodly offspring.

That is why Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI-F, a religious party, now practises public issue-based politics, believing in the electoral process even if their goal is to enforce Sharia — a demand that should be more popular than, say, cricket, as the proponents of Islamic ideology would insist, but what to do when it is not? That’s why the Taliban have come to hate him too.

Then, take the 2007-2009 lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the judges sent packing by Gen Musharraf. It united the legal community from across the board, as indeed did the election last year of Asma Jahangir to the post of the president of the Supreme Court Bar. The only ideology embraced by the legal fraternity and which won the day was pushing for ‘rule of law’. And this too leads us to a very interesting point in the sphere of law itself. Consider the Raymond Davis case.

When pressure did not work, the US was forced to fight out his case under Pakistan’s existing, controversial Qisas and Diyat law, which favours the rich — no conditions of faith or nationality or the nature of the crime committed attached — as opposed to serving the cause of justice. The outrage over Davis’s acquittal was shared equally by Pakistanis across the land.

Paradoxically, the religious right which wants more such laws enacted in the name of Sharia was most vocal about the ‘injustice’ done in the case. Paradoxically again, instead of the religious right, the Americans were embarrassed before their own voters for having paid for the release of Davis. Washington denied paying any blood money itself; it was arranged through diplomatic channels with help from friendly governments which had no such qualms.

Davis would have gone to trial and probably have been convicted under secular laws, which Ziaul Haq and after him Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Nawaz Sharif replaced with the controversial Sharia laws. Dare anyone today say that the cause of justice was served by Davis paying blood money and walking away a free man?

Granted all Pakistanis today want the rule of law under which justice is served and also seen to be done. For this do we need laws that are abused or dispense injustice under the pretext of having divine sanction? In fact, they don’t, for Sharia laws are just as man-made as so-called secular laws. We had rather have laws that we can change to meet the demands of justice as human intellect evolves and embraces values that are universally applicable.

When secular causes can bring and keep Pakistanis together why not secular laws? Secularism does not negate Islam as a popular faith as it was practised before the imposition of controversial laws, under which rape victims can be locked up if they cannot prove the crime; mothers can forgive their sons for murdering their own daughters; the rich can pay blood money to escape punishment while a poor man goes to the gallows for committing the same crime; and minorities are booked for blaspheming against Islam. All this brings Islam only disrepute and no glory.

For God, for unity, for the country, we need to rethink our laws. Meanwhile, keep counting on cricket as the secular binding force at a time when all else, especially an obscurantist state ideology, does all to divide and rule us with its misrule.

The Shariah law: Relationship between Religion and Politics [Part 3]

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THE LIFESTYLE OF TODAYS MUSLIMS NOT TRULY ISLAMIC

Arabs in dance barsThat is one area of difficulties. But there is another very important area of difficulty: That is, the life‑style of the Muslims in most countries is not truly and profoundly Muslim.

You see, you do not require a law of Shariah to say your prayers five times. You do not require the law of Shariah to make you behave honestly. You do not require the law of Shariah to be imposed to make you speak the truth and to appear as witness in court ‑ or, wherever you appear as witness ‑ honestly and truthfully. A society where robbery has become the order of the day, where there is disorder, chaos, usurpation of others rights, where the courts seldom witness a person who is truthful, where abusive language is a common place mode of expression, where there is no decency left in human behavior, what would you expect Shariah to do there? How the law of Shariah would genuinely be imposed in such a country, this is the question.

SUITABLE ATMOSPHERE REQUIRED FOR THE IMPOSITION OF SHARIAH LAW

Lets put it in a different form. The question is that every country has a climate and not all the flora can flourish in that climate. Dates flourish in deserts but not in the chilly north. Similarly, cherries cannot be sown in the desert; they require a special climate. Shariah also requires a special climate. If you have not created that climate, then Shariah cannot be imposed.

Every prophet ‑ not only Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) ‑ every prophet first created that healthy climate for the law of God to be imposed, willingly not compulsorily. And when the society was ready, then the laws were introduced and stiffened further and further, until the whole code was revealed. That society was capable of carrying the burden of the law of religion, whether you call it Shariah law or any other law.

In a society for instance, where theft is common place, where telling falsehood is just an everyday practice, if you enact Shariah law and sever the hands of those who steal, what is going to happen? Is that the purpose of Shariah? It’s not just a question of senti­mentality about religion. God’s Will be done no doubt, but it will be done in the orderly way as God wishes us to do.

SHARIAH LAW USED AS A PRETEXT TO SEIZE POWER

It is not the love of Islam which is urging them on to demand Shariah law. It is just an instrument to reach to power, to capture power and to rule the society in the name of God. Society is already ruled by corrupt people, by cruel people but that is done in the name of human beings; that is tolerable to a degree. But when atrocities are committed in the name of God, it’s the worst possible, the ugliest thing that can happen to man.

So as such, we must think many, many times, before we can even begin to ponder over the question whether anywhere in the world, the law of religion can be imposed as a legal tender? I doubt it.

The Shariah law: Relationship between Religion and Politics [Part 2]

PreviousPart 1


All religions split up into sects with time

But that Is not all: Every religion, at the source is one and single and non-splittable, but as you pass along in period of time, the religion begins to diverge and split within and multiply and become more and more in number, so that the same faith which, for instance, at the time of Jesus Christ (peace be on him) was one single Chris­tianity, turned into many hundreds of Christianity. Looked from the vantage point of different sects, the one single source appears to be different in color. Different‑colored eye‑glasses are used by vari­ous followers of various sects. The same is true of Islam. It’s not just a question of Sunni Islam and Shia Islam and how they interpret the Shariah.

Within Shia Islam there are 34 sects whose interpretation of Shariah differs with each other. Within again, Sunni Islam there are at least 34 sects whose interpretation of Shariah differs with each other. There are issues on which no two scholars of different sects agree. Not superficial issue; even the fundamental ones. How to define a Muslim?

If thirteen centuries, plus some years are not enough for you to be able to define the very fundamentals of Islam ‑ what is a definition? ‑ how much more time would you require?

This is a very grave issue. If the Shariah interpretation of one sect is imposed, then it will not just be the non‑Muslims who will be dispossessed of the fundamental right of participation in the country’s legislation, but within Islam also there would be many sects who would be deprived of this right.

The Interpretation of which sect is to be imposed on Shariah Law?

Again there are so many other problems: For instance, according to some Shariah concept, the punishment for a crime is so much different from the concept of another sect, that Islam would be practiced in the world so differently on the same issue, that it would create a horrible impression on the non‑Muslim world. What sort of faith that is which advises one punishment for the same crime here and another there. And in some other places it is just the very thing to do and it’s no crime at all.

These and many such issues make the question of imposition of Shariah almost impossible.

Moreover, the fundamental rights of other sects are also tampered with, or trampled upon, in many possible situations. For instance on the question of drinking of alcohol. Alcohol is forbidden in Islam, alright; but, the very question of whether it is a punishable offense and whether the punishment, if any, is imposed by man in this world, is a fluid issue. It is a controversial issue and has not yet been agreed upon by all the people involved. What is the punishment of drinking? The Holy Quran does NOT mention any punishment. This is a fundamental law, the Book of law and it is inferred from some Tradition, by some scholars, that; that should be the punishment. But that inference is far‑fetched and the Traditions themselves are challenged by others not to be authentic.

So, will a large section of not only Muslim society, but also a large section of non‑Muslim society, be punished for such reasons as in themselves are doubtful. Whether it’s valid or not, this is the issue. Yet there are extremists, everywhere and particularly those who go for Shariah to be imposed.

You will find many extremist who are totally intolerant of others opinion. Consequently, such gray areas also will be taken as No Doubt areas by the extremists. They will say, ‘Yes, we know; it’s our opinion. It’s the opinion supported by a medieval scholar or our thinking. And that is law’.

Part 3Next

The Shariah law: Relationship between Religion and Politics [Part 1]

The Shariah law is an extremely hot debate among Muslim countries and now this debate is taking place in countries where Muslim population is on the rise. It is understood generally that if the majority of a country constitute with Muslims, then the Muslims have the right – rather, an obligation ‑ to enact Shariah law. It is argued that if they believe in the Holy Qur’an and if they believe also that the Holy Qur’an is a comprehensive Book which relates to every area of human activity and directs man as to how he should conduct himself in every sphere of life, then it is hypocrisy to remain contented with those claims. They should follow the logical conclusion and enact Shariah law and make it the only law valid for the country.

Now, this is what’s being said on the one side. And on the other side, many difficulties are pointed out ‑ such as proposed legislative problems ‑ very serious constitutional problems as well as very serious problems in almost all sphere of the enactment of Shariah. So, lets first see, why Shariah law cannot be exercised or imposed on people, who practically, as far their normal way of life is concerned, are not the ideal Muslims, much to the contrary. In those areas where they are free to practice Islam, they fall so much short that one wonders when they willingly cannot exercise Islam, how could they be expected to do it by coercion and by force of law. This and many others are the areas where debate is being carried on and pursued hotly, let us try to understand all the sides of this issue.

Shariah is the law and there is no doubt about it; the law of Islam; the law for Muslims. But the question is how far can this law be transformed into legislation for running a political government. On top of that many other issues get involved in it. For instance, if a Muslim country has the right to dictate its law to all of its population, then by the same reasoning and logic, every other country with the majority of population belonging to other religions would have exactly do the same right to enact their laws.

The entire world would become a world of not only political conflict but also of a politico‑religious conflict, whereby all the laws would be attributed to God, yet they would contradict each other diametrically. There would be such a confusion that people would begin to lose faith in God Who speaks one thing to one people and another thing to another people, and Who tells them to enforce this law on the people or ‘they will be untrue to Me‘.

As such, you can well imagine what would happen in India for instance, if the law of the Hindu Majority is imposed on the Muslim minority. As a matter of fact, a large section of the Indian society is gradually being pushed towards this extremist demand ‑ by the way of reaction, I suppose to what is happening in some Islamic count­ries. What would happen to the Muslims and other minorities in India? Moreover this is not a question of India alone. What if Israel enacts the law of Judaism ‑the law of Talmud ‑ it will be impossible for any other non‑Jew to live there, normally and decently.

In the same manner Christianity has its own rights and so has Buddhism.

PARTICIPATION IN LEGISLATION

The next consideration is the very concept of the state: This is the most fundamental issue which has to be resolved and addressed by those who are concerned with politics or international law. The question is that anyone born in a state has the right to participate in its legislation.

In the secular concept of the running of governments and le­gislation, everyone born in a given country, whatever be his religion or color or creed acquires the basic fundamental civic rights. And the most important among these rights is the chance at least, to participate in the shaping of the legislation.

Of course, parties come and go; majority parties today may turn into minority parties tomorrow. Everybody’s wish is not fulfilled or carried out. But in principle, everybody has a fair and equal chance to make his say heard at least by the opposition, on matters of common principle. But what would happen if one Shariah or one religion is imposed as the law of that country? If Muslim law were imposed in a country, all the rest of the people who are inhabitants of the same land, would have to be considered as second, third or fourth rate citizens of the same country with No say whatsoever in the legislation. But that is not all the problem is further complicated within Islam itself: Because Islam has a Book revealed by God and the Muslim scholars claim that it is their right to interpret the Book.

LEGISLATIVE BODY SUBORDINATE TO RELIGIOUS SCHOLARS

On issues of differences of opinion, the legislative body stands subordinate to the scholastic opinion of such scholars who spe­cialize in understanding the Holy Qur’an; or who CLAIM to specialize in understanding the Holy Qur’an. What would be their mutual relationship. A body is elected to legislate. They legislate and you might come across some scholars of Islam disregarding the legislation dubbing it un-Islamic.

Whose voice should be heard? On the one hand, it would apparently be God speaking behind those people; but only apparently. On the other hand, there will be a voice of the majority of people of the country. So the dilemma becomes almost impossible to be resolved.

Part 2Next

Pakistan and the dehumanisation of minorities – Ishtiaq Ahmed

(The following article was written by Ishtiaq Ahmed, it was published in Daily times on 7th December 2010.)
How do we explain that despite several Sufi shrines being targeted by suicide bombers, the Ahle Sunnat ulema are demanding that Aasia Bibi should be executed? How can the Ahle Sunnat ignore that fact that they themselves are on the hit list of extremists who consider them guilty of crimes no less serious than blasphemy?

Professor Brij Narain was a famous Lahore-born academic whose books on economics were on the required reading list of the curricula of pre-partition universities. Enamoured by Jinnah’s English lifestyle and mannerism and himself strongly secular and idealistic, Brij Narain underestimated the morbid impact of the rabidly anti-Hindu and anti-Sikh rhetoric of the 1945-46 election campaign in Punjab. He developed a strong set of arguments to prove that Pakistan was economically feasible and viable. When partition took place in mid-August 1947 and Lahore was burning, he continued to believe that Hindus like him could be Pakistanis like any other community. A mob arrived at his door and mercilessly killed him notwithstanding his pleas that he supported Pakistan.

Miss Ralia Ram was a Lahore-born Christian lady who wrote letter after letter to Quaid-e-Azam warning him about Congress machinations. She too believed in the righteousness of Pakistan. Her letters are easily accessible in the several volumes of the Jinnah Papers. Fortunately in 1947, Christians were not a target group. Many Hindus and Muslims saved their lives by faking a Christian identity. Both in Amritsar and in Kasur thousands of Muslim refugees received medical aid from Christian volunteers.

Even more interesting is the fact that the majority of Punjabi Christians supported the Muslim League’s case for Pakistan before the Punjab Boundary Commission. Their leader, S P Singha, argued that the Christians would rather have a united Punjab, but if Punjab were to be divided they could expect better treatment in Pakistan than in caste-ridden India. The leader of the Anglo-Indians Mr Gibbon informed the Punjab Boundary Commission that the Anglo-Indians were happy to be in Pakistan. They regarded Lahore and West Punjab as their homeland.

I have already mentioned in an earlier op-ed that the leadership of the Ahmediyya community was deeply worried about persecution in a sectarian Pakistan. However, just before the partition of India it was decided to support the Pakistan movement (Munir Report 1954: 196-7). Thereafter the Ahmedis put all their efforts behind the Muslim League’s campaign. Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, a leading member of the Ahmediyya community, presented the Muslim League case before the Punjab Boundary Commission with sterling competence. The counsel for the Congress Party, Mr Setalvad, could not restrain himself from publicly paying compliments to Zafarullah during the proceedings. In 1947, the Ahmedis were still included in government statistics among Muslims, and that alone had inflated the Muslim percentage of the Gurdaspur district to a bare majority of 51 percent.

All such stories sound unreal in the light of the Pakistan experience. The Hindus were naturally the first to flee from Pakistan. The next to exit were the Anglo-Indians. The Ahmedis started seeking refuge in the west in the 1980s. Only in Sindh a Hindu minority survived while in the rest of Pakistan mostly the poorest Christians stayed put because they had nowhere to go.

Ridiculing Sikhs as simpletons is a prejudice that still survives in Pakistani Punjab, but their leaders proved to be the most farsighted in anticipating the type of Pakistan that would emerge. In the second half of May 1947, the Sikh leaders met Jinnah in Delhi. Jinnah and Liaquat had come fully prepared to convince them to support the Pakistan demand. They told the Sikhs to write down whatever they wanted and it would be granted. The charm offensive, however, was too late in the day. Earlier, in March 1947, Sikh villages in the Rawalpindi, Attock and Jhelum districts had borne the brunt of mob attacks at the hands of Muslims. At least 2,000 Sikhs lost their lives.

No Muslim League leader, including Jinnah, issued a public statement condemning those attacks. I have looked in vain in the two main English-language newspapers of pre-partition Punjab, the Tribune and The Pakistan Times as well as in the Jinnah Papers for any evidence of the condemnation of that outrage. In the event, Hardit Sikh Malik, who acted as the spokesperson for the Sikhs told Jinnah that they could not risk their future on his promises; the day he is gone things would change. He was right.

I have always held the view that the anti-minority stance took birth at the time of the 1945-46-election campaign in the Muslim-majority provinces of north-western India. Once it was born, it assumed a life of its own. Only someone totally naive can believe that Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech was a magic mantra that could suffice to make it vanish. Already in early 1951, the ulema of all Sunni sub-sects — including the Barelvis — and the Ithna Ashari Shias had signed the 22-point Islamist agenda for an Islamic state prepared by Maulana Maududi. Gradually that agenda encroached on the constitutional and legal machinery, culminating in the Islamisation measures of General Ziaul Haq.

The mindset that such measures generated percolated all sections of society, with a few honourable exceptions. In the current situation, while President Zardari and Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer are willing to spare the life of the Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who most certainly has been wrongly framed on charges of blasphemy, federal Law Minister Babar Awan has made theatrical pronouncements in support of the draconian Blasphemy Law, thus undermining his own government. The legal fraternity remains badly divided. While the Lahore High Court has issued a stay order against the reprieve granted by the president, the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), Ms Asma Jahangir has boldly criticised that decision. The confusion is absolute.

How do we explain that despite several Sufi shrines being targeted by suicide bombers the Ahle Sunnat ulema are demanding that Aasia Bibi should be executed? How can the Ahle Sunnat ignore that fact that they themselves are on the hit list of extremists who consider them guilty of crimes no less serious than blasphemy? The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) is considered a ‘democratic, parliamentary’ party by some western academics. I have seen with my own eyes a doctoral thesis passed by the reputable Gothenburg University of Sweden in support of JI’s democratic credentials. Its leader, Syed Munnawar Hassan, has also demanded that Aasia Bibi should be put to death. That is the type of democracy the JI actually represents.

Can one seriously believe that all these people who are crying for the blood of a poor Christian woman are doing this for their love for Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)? Perhaps, but what a love!

The writer is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at billumian@gmail.com

The Blasphemy law: (From being unIslamic to Islamic)

Pakistan is again in the spotlight internationally, due to a controversial death sentence against a Christian woman. The woman was accused of blasphemy last year and has been prison since. Just few weeks earlier she was charged with ‘blasphemy’ under the article 295 -c of the constitution of Pakistan. The only crime she committed was act out of anger upon her discrimination by her fellow workers. Yes, it will cost her, her life.

The blasphemy law has been on and off the discussion table for some time, since its ‘renewal’ in the mid 1980’s, it has disturbed lives of many Pakistani citizens, even Muslims. Many individuals and human rights activists have protested against it, even demanded its repeal, but the manipulative religion-political fractions of Pakistan have always enticed the ‘Muslim emotions’ on this issue. They claim it to be an ‘Islamic’ law. Lets take some time to see what is Islamic about it.

Background:

The blasphemy law was first constituted in medieval Britain. From the 16th century to the mid-19th century, blasphemy against the Church of England was held as an offense against common law. Blasphemy was also used as a legal instrument to persecute atheists, Unitarians, and others. The law was considered ‘Biblical’ in that era.

Introduction of the blasphemy law in Pakistan:

The blasphemy law was first introduced to the Pakistan Penal Code in 1860 by the British government as the means to protect the Muslim minority against the Hindu majority but offering all religions equal protection (Section 295). Before that, there was no blasphemy law in the sub-continent of India. Hence it is safe to say that the law was derived from the British version of the blasphemy law with minor changes to be applicable within the sub-continent.

Re-birth of blasphemy law:

After the division in 1947, this law came in as a heritage, though it went somewhere in the background. In 1977, however, the dictator General Zia-ul-Huq began a process of Islamising the Pakistani constitution (with his version of Islam).  In 1982, a presidential ordinance made defiling the Holy Qur’an punishable by life imprisonment (Section 295-A and B), whilst in 1991, General Zia made Sharia Law became the supreme law in Pakistan.

The death penalty:

Under pressure from religious extremists, the blasphemy law was again amended in 1986 to include defamation of the Holy Prophet, whether directly or indirectly, both in spoken and written form, as well as by way of impersonation (Section 295-C).  For the first time, blasphemy also carried the possibility of the death sentence.  In 1991, when the Federal Shariah Court rescinded the option of life imprisonment, the death penalty became an automatic punishment for anyone found guilty of blasphemy.

Repercussions:

After its re-activation, Pakistani courts were filled with cases of blasphemy, Muslims charging minorities, even other Muslims for blasphemy. For a Muslim, blasphemy is a very emotional subject, hence many used this loop-hole on their enemies, murders were carried out in broad day light and the victim was convicted of blasphemy, which shadowed the murderer with the support from the local clergy.

Conclusion:

Blasphemy law is an amenity provided by the state for anyone to settle their contentions. The law is man-made, derived from another intolerant imperial law not from the Holy Scriptures. Islam is a peaceful and tolerant religion. Practice of such laws in an Islamic state and labeling them Islamic has hurt the cause of Islam and Pakistan.

Obama’s visit to India

Seeking to boost his country’s economy, the President of United states is visiting India these days where they will discuss mutual interests, try to increase trade volumes and their place in international politics. The President has ensured his support for the country and the people, the business and Indian culture.

While Pakistan is criticizing Obama’s visit to India, asking for a moral view in an international perspective and not base anything on politics, Obama continues to back India even more firmly, guaranteeing his backing for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security council for India. Pakistan meanwhile, is getting pressurized again to ‘do more’. Obama’s cautious behaviour on the Kashmir issue is notable when he claims that ‘United States cannot “impose” any solution’.

The way I see it, United States have greater interest in India because it has a stable democracy and its tensions with China. Pakistan should know that interests change with time, unfortunately Pakistan isn’t prepared for any change of international proportions. It can be seen clearly when both President Obama and Prime Minister Singh talk about the ‘terror machine’ that is active for some time within Pakistani borders and Pakistan is unable to control it.

It is a shameful moment for Pakistan that those who were once friends, who ‘used’ Pakistan against other nations are now ignoring Pakistan completely. This should be a hint of what Pakistan has achieved within these years of its existence, it should be a warning that if we don’t correct ourselves, we might be totally forgotten in the coming future.

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